Gas meters were illegally installed in 33 homes across Brooklyn and Queens in a wide-ranging scam to help greedy landlords rent out their properties faster, officials charged.
Seven ex-employees of the National Grid utility company were indicted Thursday along with 34 other defendants in the scheme that came under scrutiny between January and June 2016, according to authorities.
Weldon Findlay, 47, a former National Grid employee, was identified as the mastermind and leader of the conspiracy where the meters were sold for roughly $1,500 apiece, prosecutors said.
Findlay solicited Phoebe Bogan, a former National Grid customer service representative in Brooklyn, to bypass Department of Buildings approval and required city inspection, officials charged.
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“Without (Bogan) this couldn't happen,” said Assistant District Attorney Sarah Walshe in Brooklyn Supreme Court. “When she was on vacation, Findlay told landlords they were closed for business until her return.”
Unidentified suspects are escorted by police from the 1st Precinct early Thursday.
Bogan, 41, of Queens, received about $40,000 in three years to fund vacations to Costa Rica and an luxury SUV, prosecutors said. She was fired last summer.
Investigators said evidence in the scam included physical and electronic surveillance — specifically, monitoring text messages and phone calls.
Those charged included 26 landlords, property managers and contractors, said Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.
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Department of Investigations Commissioner Mark Peters said the illegal meters put New Yorkers at risk.
“During this investigation we found flex hoses used like the ones found after the Second Avenue explosion,” said Peters.
Two people were killed and three buildings were leveled in the spring 2015 blast caused by installation of an illegal gas line.
Landlords who wanted to quickly get their apartments rented would call Findlay, who teamed up with Bogan to input false information needed to turn on the meters. Co-conspirators were then dispatched to install the devices.
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Findlay negotiated prices with landlords before contacting Bogan. The defendants were variously charged with enterprise corruption, commercial bribery, falsifying business records and criminal tampering.
“National Grid has zero tolerance for unethical and illegal behavior,” said a statement from the utility. “The alleged misconduct, although limited to a handful of former employees, contradicts the dedication and professional values of our 15,000 hardworking men and women.”
Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun set Findlay's bail at $750,000 bond, held Bogan on $350,000 bond and held installer Alexie LaFleur on $150,000 bond.
All must surrender their passports and appear for bail hearings.
Inspectors from National Grid and the city buildings department checked all the locations where the meters were installed and concluded there was no risk to public safety.Send a Letter to the Editor